Wednesday night we spent a night looking back, looking forward and celebrating being together and with the Governor as the Greater Lawrence Family Health Center hosted its first in-person event in addition to two years.
The 17th Annual Making a Difference Gala was held at Andover Country Club with over 400 guests in honor of Johnathan Issacson, President and CEO of The Gem Group, a Lawrence-based promotional products company. Issacson was named the recipient of the Making a Difference award for his company’s efforts during the pandemic.
“The Health Center, Lawrence General and Sainte-Famille, among others, were on the front line. That’s when I received an email from Eileen Reynolds of Beth Israel Hospital in Boston, titled “Hail Mary.” They were struggling with COVID, had run out of PTE and needed help. Helped by a team of scientists from the University of Michigan, we pivoted. Two weeks after the governor asked us to close, we reopened. Over the next 24 months, the Gemline team quietly moved over 350 air shipments in over 50 containers of high quality PTE to a collapsed supply chain system. It was a difficult time, but I will proudly say that of the nearly 70 million units of PPE we have delivered, none have returned because we failed to meet a standard,” said Issacson.
Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has delivered on a promise he made four years ago to return to Greater Lawrence after graduating this year’s class of doctors at the Lawrence Family Medicine Residency Program , based at the health center. Baker reflected during his opening speech and appreciated Commonwealth residents for their actions during the pandemic.
“But, honestly, you know, I don’t think sometimes when you’re in the middle of something like this you contextually appreciate the way you’re handling it compared to how a lot of other people are and, many times and many times, I would leave those calls and say “people here have really taken the opportunity and tried to find kindness in what has been an extremely difficult and very anxiety-inducing time”. I just thought every day and I don’t want any of you – when I say that my guys in the back will vouch for me I say at pretty much every public event I do these days, I don’t want you to not appreciate how very special the peoples of the Commonwealth have been to each other over the past couple of years, because that hasn’t happened everywhere. It didn’t happen everywhere and I want you to know that,” Baker told the crowd.
Baker took the time to look back, but also stressed it was time to move forward on initiatives that have been essentially put on hold due to COVID-19.
“There’s a whole bunch of things that even though the vaccine industry therapies have been developed – all these other things have been done, there will be a whole bunch of things. My housing program has stalled for all intents and purposes. We need to go back and start cranking again on housing production because, yes, housing is a problem in Massachusetts. Housing was an issue in Massachusetts before the pandemic,” he said.
Dr. Guy Fish, President and CEO of GLFHC, spoke about the need for access to additional behavioral health services in the Merrimack Valley.
“Access to care and delivery of care is perhaps the most critical link in all health care. In the telecommunications industry, people say that the last mile of service delivery is the most difficult, and that is access to health care. Provide these behavioral health medications, devices, diagnostics and therapies to the individual. We know a lot about diseases, biology, but if we can’t get access to the people who need it, then what’s the point? ” He asked.
They also heard a personal story from Bernard Horne, who discovered GLFHC during the pandemic.
“So I happen to be in the age group to get this (vaccine) and I showed up at 700 Essex St. It was like a converted storefront. I mean really? I was struck by the fact that this organization was doing all it could to break down walls and doors in order to get people vaccinated. It’s just that I was struck by the fact that it was an incredible detail on the excellence of the organization.
The event raised more than $200,000 to help expand behavioral health services at the Community Health Center, which has provided health care to Merrimack Valley residents for more than 40 years.